Ask a Vet

What Does It Mean When Your Turtle’s Mouth Is Open?

By Kerry
Updated on

Turtles are known for their ability to breathe through their mouths. But did you know they also have a unique way of opening their mouths? 

Turtles have a special muscle called the hyoid bone that allows them to open their mouths wide. This is why they can eat large prey items such as fish and frogs.

Open mouth turtle

But should you worry if your pet has its mouth open for longer? We take a look at why your turtle opens its mouth and when you should start to worry.

Why Is My Turtle’s Mouth Open?

If your turtle has its mouth open, there may be several reasons behind this behavior. It could be because it wants to eat something or drink water. Or maybe it just likes the feel of the air on its face!

Another reason why your turtle may have its mouth open is if it is sick. If your turtle seems lethargic, has trouble breathing, or has other problems, contact your veterinarian immediately.

When your turtle has its mouth closed, it is usually safe to assume that everything is fine. However, if your pet’s mouth is open, it means that he/she needs your help.

The easiest way to tell if your turtle’s mouth is open is by looking at its tongue. The tip of the tongue will stick out when the mouth is closed. If the tongue isn’t sticking out, then the mouth probably is open.

When your turtle opens its mouth, don’t worry about it. Just let it do what it needs to do. If it doesn’t close its mouth right away, don’t try to force it. Instead, wait until it closes itself again.

Turtle Respiratory Infection

When your turtle has its mouth open, it may have a respiratory infection.

A respiratory infection occurs when an animal inhales germs into his/her lungs. These germs cause inflammation in the lungs and make it difficult for the animal to breathe properly.

Respiratory infections are common among turtles. They often get these infections from eating infected prey. To prevent respiratory infections, keep your turtle fed only healthy food.

Symptoms Of Turtle Respiratory Infections

Your turtle may show symptoms like coughing, sneezing, raspy breathing, and wheezing. If your turtle shows any of these signs, call your vet immediately.

It is important to note that not all turtles with respiratory infections will show symptoms, such as having their mouth open.

Some animals may appear perfectly normal even though they have a respiratory infection. So always check your turtle’s mouth before assuming it is okay.

What Should You Do If Your Turtle Has A Respiratory Infectious Disease?

If your turtle has been diagnosed with respiratory infectious disease, there are a few steps you can take to ensure the disease doesn’t spread.

Wash your hands thoroughly after handling your pet, and clean your home by wiping down surfaces with disinfectant spray.

Cover your turtle’s cage when you don’t use it so no dust or other particles are settling on it.

While your turtle is still infectious, do not let anyone else handle your turtle until he/she recovers from the illness.

When possible, keep your turtle indoors during times when there is a high risk of exposure to viruses and bacteria.

During the time your turtle is sick, you must monitor your turtle’s behavior carefully. Watch for signs of dehydration such as sunken eyes, droopy ears, and a lack of appetite.

Also, your turtle having its mouth open for a prolonged time can be a sign of a respiratory infection.

Observe your turtle for signs of pain and check your pet frequently for sores around his/her mouth.

It’s a good idea to make a note of any changes in your pet’s behavior, so you can speak to your vet about them.

Contact your vet immediately if your pet develops diarrhea, vomiting, or fever.

How Can You Prevent A Respiratory Infection From Happening?

To avoid getting a respiratory infection, here are some tips:

  • Keep your turtle well hydrated. Make sure that it always has access to fresh water.
  • Avoid feeding your turtle any kind of food that contains live bugs.
  • Don’t feed your turtle anything with bones in it. Bones can splinter and become lodged inside the throat causing an obstruction.
  • Do not allow your turtle to swim in ponds where it can come in contact with contaminated water.
  • Never give your turtle medications without first consulting your veterinarian.

Close up picture of turtle mouth

Turtle Food Guide

Here is a list of foods that your turtle might enjoy:

  • Fresh vegetables (carrots, lettuce, spinach)
  • Live insects (grasshoppers, crickets, mealworms)
  • Small pieces of raw meat (chicken breast, beef heart)
  • Raw eggs
  • Fish (tilapia, catfish, carp)
  • Crustaceans (shrimp, crabs)
  • Shrimps
  • Frogs
  • Snails
  • Worms
  • Other small animals

Keep in mind that some foods are more likely to cause problems than others. For example, live insects like grasshoppers and crickets may contain salmonella bacteria which can cause serious illness.

How To Help Your Turtle Close Its Mouth

To help your turtle close its mouth, gently push down on its lower jaw with one hand while pulling up on its upper jaw with the other hand. You can use your fingers or even an object like a spoon.

If your turtle still won’t close its mouth, call your vet. He/she might need to sedate your pet so that they can examine him/her more closely.

If you notice that your turtle’s mouth is open, don’t panic. Here are some things you can do:

  • Stay calm. Letting yourself get upset won’t help.
  • Try to coax your turtle to close its mouth.
  • Call your vet.
  • Wait patiently for your turtle to close its mouth.
  • Be patient. It usually takes several days before your turtle learns how to close its mouth on its own.
  • Give your turtle plenty of time to rest.
  • If your turtle continues to refuse to close its mouth, call the vet.
  • Do not attempt to force your turtle to close its jaw. This could lead to injury.
  • If your pet becomes lethargic, weak, or unresponsive, call your vet right away.

Final Thoughts

It is important to monitor your turtle’s health closely. If you see any unusual behaviors, like opening its mouth for a longer period of time, it is best to seek veterinary care as soon as possible.

If you suspect that your turtle has a respiratory infection, make sure to take it to your vet as soon as possible. The sooner you act, the better chance you’ll have at saving your pet’s life.

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About the author


Kerry White is an avid dog lover and writer, knowing all there is to know about our furry friends. Kerry has been writing for PetDT for three years now, wanting to use her knowledge for good and share everything she can with new dog owners.Kerry has two dogs herself - a German shepherd called Banjo and a chocolate labrador called Buttons. Kerry knows more than anyone how adjusting to new life with a puppy can turn your life upside down, and she wants to ease some of the burdens through her articles.